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Madi Henry outside of the Magic Carpets of Aladdin ride, which is where she worked. // Photo courtesy of Madi Henry

By Kiahna White-Alcain

When you hear “the happiest place on earth,” what image automatically appears in your mind? Disneyland? The Walt Disney Company has a program geared towards college students where they can have the opportunity to work at Disneyland or Disney World in the middle of their college career. 

Katelyn Power, a now fourth-year student, participated in the Disney College Program at the beginning of her second-year in fall 2017. 

“My older sister did the Disney College Program her sophomore year,” Power said. “I saw her do it and then I was like, ‘I’m gonna do that when I go to college.’”

The Disney College Program is a paid, five-to-seven month program geared toward college students. It allows them to network with leaders, take part in personal and career development classes, and build skills in teamwork, problem-solving, and guest interactions, according to Disney Careers

Each role offered is treated like a paid internship. Roles range anywhere from jobs like custodial, retail or attractions. 

“I worked in retail,” Power said. “I was assigned to California Adventure stores, so I worked in Cars Land, Grizzly Peak, Hollywood Land, just all over.” 

Power was hired to be the front of house which involves a lot of guest interaction. Once she arrived, Power was told she would be working stock and inventory. 

“They trained us to be in the back,” Power said. “Shifts were anywhere from three in the morning to four in the morning.” 

Power said for a while, she wasn’t sure if this is really what she wanted to do. Being in the back room away from guest interaction wasn’t what she wanted to be there for, she said. 

“I had days where I put ink tags on boxes in a backroom for eight hours,” Power said. “I love Disney, but I was a little bitter. But how upset can you really be when you’re at the happiest place on earth?” 

Katelyn Power enjoying a day off at the park by meeting Peter Pan. // Photo courtesy of Katelyn Power

Being away from home was definitely one of the bigger challenges, Power said. Moving to Anaheim was the first time that Power lived in an apartment outside of the dorms, she said. 

“I learned to be independent,” Power said. “I was very dependent my first year [in college], so I definitely became a lot more of an independent person which is the biggest thing I took away for myself.”

While Power’s future plans of returning to Disney have ultimately changed, she thinks the Disney College Program is such a good program and recommends it to any who wants to do it, she said. 

Madi Henry, who is currently earning her Associate of Arts at Everett Community College, has participated in two college programs now. 

“I did my first [program] in fall 2018,” Henry said. “My second one was in fall 2019.” 

Henry said she did both of her programs in Disney World. In Henry’s first program, she worked as a custodial cast member. In her second, she was a character attendant, someone who works with characters in the park during meet and greets. Before moving to Florida, Henry hadn’t really worked before. 

“I had no idea what I was getting into, in terms of the job aspect,” Henry said. “I feel like I’ve just come away with a new appreciation for people, as well as how to handle certain situations and how to prioritize those [situations].” 

Henry said she loved her first program so much that after fall 2018, she extended her program and transitioned to working part-time during spring 2019, she said.

“I would 100% recommend the Disney College Program,” Henry said. “I would definitely research the roles to get a better idea of what’s required of each role to figure out what would best suit you.” 

Cezar Mesquita, the director of admissions at Western, who did his Disney College Program in spring 1993, said he still uses some of the skills he learned from Disney in his day-to-day life. 

“I remember [the four keys]: courtesy, safety, show and efficiency,” Mesquita said. 

Those four words go together to describe Disney’s “Four Keys,” which are an integral part of building a successful company to guarantee an exceptional guest experience, he said. 

“I’ve been in college admissions for over 20 years and I apply some of those principles all the time,” Mesquita said. 

Alternatively, there’s even smaller things he still remembers, like looking around for when things may be out of place or dirty, Mesquita said. 

“I often walk around wondering, ‘why aren’t there more trash cans?’ Or I walk around airports just looking for trash cans,” Mesquita said. One of Walt Disney’s goals was to always have the cleanest amusement park, and he implemented that by having trash cans placed every 30 feet. 

Mesquita did his program during his third year of college while studying at the University of Nebraska. Mesquita was hired on as an attractions cast member where he worked on Splash Mountain in the Magic Kingdom, he said. 

“At the time I was going through some difficult things in my personal life; I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” Mesquita said. 

Mesquita heard about the Disney College Program and was uniquely hired on the spot. 

“As somebody who identifies as Latino, [the recruiter] asked me, ‘Do you speak Spanish or Portuguese?’” Mesquita said. “I said, ‘Yes, I speak both’ and he said, ‘You’re hired.’”

The Disney College Program is offered to students all over the world, the only criteria being that when you apply, you’ve been in college for a minimum of six months or have graduated no less than six months ago. Because it’s offered to students from all over, there’s always a chance for there to be a wide range of people. 

“I think that the incredible shared experience of working with people from around the world behind the common mission to deliver an experience to the guests visiting, is such a special opportunity,” Mesquita said. “I would unequivocally recommend this program to anyone.”

One thing’s for sure, Power, Henry and Mesquita said they all agreed that the biggest perk about working for the Walt Disney Company was free admission into the parks whenever they wanted.


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